By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Back in college, I at one time had a journalism professor try to instill in my head that when reviewing anything, it is ‘unfair to compare.’ That saying has been something I have taken and used since I started reviewing movies in my daily life. However, much like I had a hard time reviewing The Amazing Spider-Man a couple weeks ago without comparing it to the Sam Raimi directed films; I am having a similar problem here. The Dark Knight Rises, which has been deemed the final film of Christopher Nolan’s comic book film genre defining trilogy involving the Caped Crusader, marks the end of an era. An era in which films have contained monstrous psychiatrists (Scarecrow in Batman Begins) and frightening jokesters (Joker in The Dark Knight) and were so well received by both the public and critics that for the first time ever, the award known as the Oscar was constantly being mentioned in conjunction with stories about a guy who dresses as a bat. Will the same talk come about after this film? For one performance, I would say yes. But, the blocks Nolan set so well when defining what his trilogy did to cinema came tumbling down in The Dark Knight Rises. Containing clunky dialogue, pointless supporting characters, and a villain who is not even close to being up to standards, the film takes flight but never smoothes out, making for a bumpy ending to an otherwise tremendous trilogy. It is not without its positive merits, however.
If you stop and think about it, who would want to climb the success mountain known as Mount Dark Knight again? Nolan has set the bar so high, that there was really nowhere for him to go but down. After all, you cannot out scare Scarecrow. You certainly can’t out joke Joker. So, where do Nolan and his team of writers decide to take The Dark Knight Rises? To the outright pointless thuggery and lenience on bullying of Bane. Now, Tom Hardy has the potential to be a modern star. His turns in films such as Warrior and Nolan’s own Inception prove the guy has the charisma to take him places. Here, however, he is utterly wasted. From the very outset, a scene in which he takes over a plane and has absolutely none of the tension of The Dark Knight’s introduction to its villain, Bane comes off as threatening. But, by no means is he scary. It doesn’t help that he is the victim of the absolute worst sound design in super villain history. Now, let me clarify: I was NOT one of those who complained about the voice of Bane when the initial trailers to this film were released. While I found it to be a bit silly, I just assumed that editors would fix it in post like they normally do. However, they failed MISERABLY. First, his voice sounds like a cross between Sean Connery and Morla from The Neverending Story. To top it off, which may be an even worse mistake, the surrounding sound of the film is almost completely turned off every single time he speaks, making his voice even more distracting than Bale’s laryngitis containing way of speaking as Batman ever was. It was silly, and a huge detriment to the overall feel of the film.
Speaking of detriments, that would lead us right to Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. I will be the first to admit that I was not a big fan of this casting choice. However, I was confident that with Nolan at the helm, the character of Selina would shine through more than the actress portraying her. In truth, Hathaway tries so hard to be something she is completely not, which is a feisty hard edged woman, that I ended up cringing more at her performance than I ever did at Katie Holmes from the first film. With her bad to worse delivery of lines such as ‘catch ya later’ and ‘girl’s gotta eat,’ combined with her tendency to completely crack her voice to pointlessly try and add a dramatic effect (what is up with the voices of this franchise?!) I had a hard time keeping my head out of my hands every single time she was onscreen. In the right role, I think Hathaway excels (she was wonderful in Love and Other Drugs) but here, she just tries too hard to be something she is not, which is elegantly sexy. And it unfortunately has no positive effect on the quality of The Dark Knight Rises whatsoever.
Hardy’s other ‘Inception layovers’ didn’t fare much better. The better end of the stick was given to Levitt, if only because his sheer charisma carries his yet another thankless role in this film. And, while he played his character rather well, I once again did not see any real point of having him here. The worst end, however, was given to Cotillard. Her character of Miranda gets involved in a romance with a Rocky V-type down on his luck Bruce Wayne that feels like one made of sheer coincidence instead of development. All of these are things that you just don’t see in a Nolan film. All of his other movies feel as if each and every scene is vital to the overall output of the plot. Normally in a Nolan film, you feel you cannot even blink or else you will miss something that plays into the gist of the story. Here, there are at least 7 scenes that could easily have been dropped. Yes, there are very well done scenes and series of scenes as well, but making the catastrophic feat in the second act that Bruce must accomplish be scale a wall is not exactly what I would call gripping.
Even Nolan’s directing style seems off in this film. Sure, there is the well shot dancing scene involving Selina and Bruce, which used his 360 degree camera angles to a T and was very well done. As was how he pieced together the finale (something he has always been very good at). Otherwise, his choice of cuts like going from Commissioner Gordon and Blake talking in a car at night directly to Bane holding up a picture of Harvey Dent in broad daylight just felt strange to me. However, this is not to say there were not any positive aspects to this film. The way loose ends such as Rachel’s letter from the second film and Harvey Dent’s influence contributing to the Dent Act felt rewarding. As did the score, which, with the exception of some random synthesizers played during Catwoman’s first appearance, was, in my opinion, the overall best score of the series. Freeman once again brings the welcoming dry humor goods. However, remember that Oscar I mentioned earlier? Don’t be surprised if Caine is not in the running for the Academy Award yet again come awards season. His character of Alfred has some of the most dramatic scenes in the entire film (at one point, Nolan just gives the moody music a break while Caine expresses some sorrowful regrets). Great performance by a terrific pro. And, as already mentioned, things finally come together for the film in its terrific action-packed heart-pounding finale, which also contained a twist that, while reaching, I in all honestly did not see coming.
Well, you knew it had to happen eventually. Just how many times could Nolan live up to, and most cases far exceed expectations? The guy is by no means less talented, but even he could not make Hathaway’s Catwoman a mystery worth solving or Bane a thug worth rooting for his death. The Dark Knight Rises proves to be a semi enjoyable, mostly disappointing end to the redefining Dark Knight franchise. My advice to anyone going to see this film is to scale down your expectations by a lot. And, most importantly, don’t unfairly compare.
3 out of 5